Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Browns Week 8 preview: Hello, 8-0
Bill Belichick chasing his 300th career coaching win with only Freddie Kitchens in his way. A true David vs. Goliath story, only in this instance, I have a feeling Goliath catches the rock, slowly opens his palm and after pondering the best use for it, decides to feed it to David. Slowly. The 2-4 Browns – with all their talent – cannot come into Foxboro and just take it on Sunday.
Even with fledgling head coach Kitchens running an offense that’s tethered to the most turnover-prone quarterback in the league, they still have to take chances. Otherwise, their offense will be fed into the thresher just like the other seven the Patriots have seen this year. Gamble on offense because nobody’s stringing drives together against the Patriots defense. Make the Patriots beat you on the ground defensively by sitting back in coverage and making them finish drives. Can they do it? LOL. Especially on a sloppy, slippery day? Not gonna happen.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
It’s a labor. The Patriots have had one half of decent production on the ground all season – the second half against the Redskins when they ran 20 times for 111 yards. That’s’ the only game the Patriots have averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry. Last week against the Jets, the Patriots ran 34 times for 74 yards. It’s been a variety of issues and the blame is shared between the backs and the line. One positive, in the past three games, the Browns have allowed 618 yards on the ground. You read that right. Now, they dealt with two of the league’s best rushing quarterbacks – Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson – but the fact remains they can’t stop anybody on the ground. So something’s got to give. Look for the Patriots to keep working their jet motion looks to get the Browns eyeballing sweeps to Julian Edelman or Phillip Dorsett then try to hit the middle with Sony Michel or the more determined style of Brandon Bolden. The Browns aren’t getting much from their easily maneuvered and influenced front-seven. But the Patriots have gotten even less from their rushing attack.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
Give me the Sanu Era I’ve been waiting on since 2012. The addition of a physical, shrewd slot guy that will complement Julian Edelman. in a way that the other Patriots receivers cannot. makes the Patriots offense on third down that much more effective. And that’s one aspect of the New England offense that’s been sneakily showing up as the main evidence for the limitations it has. The Patriots went 4-for-4 on third down in their first drive last week against the Jets. After that, they were 3-for-12. They were 5-for-18 and 5-for-15 against the Bills and Redskins with an outlier being 6-for-13 against the Skins. Their ease of operation in the red zone is also suffering post-Gronk and Sanu as a short-area receiver could be a real help there. The Browns can mount a pass rush. Myles Garrett has nine sacks and is going to be a chore for the Patriots sometimes-spotty offensive line to deal with.
After being sacked seven times in his previous two games, Tom Brady wasn’t sacked last Monday night. With Sanu, Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, James White and Benjamin Watson Brady at least has a fleet of experienced players to throw to. Starting corners Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams are coming back for the Browns, who haven’t allowed a 300-yard passer this season. If not for Sanu, I’d have given this checkmark to Cleveland but I think he’s going to be the elixir for what’s ailed them at least in the air.
WHEN THE BROWNS RUN
Nick Chubb is having a terrific season on the ground, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He’s run for 374 yards in his past three games. The Patriots defense has done a nice job bottling up most every back they’ve faced, though the stutter-stepping style of Le’Veon Bell did produce a less-effective tackling day for the defense than we’d seen earlier in the season. Chubb is going to be a good test for a defense that’s allowed more than 60 yards rushing just three times in seven games. Browns left tackle Greg Robinson said Friday he’s been benched so it’s likely Justin McCray becomes the man keeping an eye on Baker Mayfield’s blind side.
WHEN THE BROWNS PASS
The Browns are 4-for-19 on third down the past two games. Mayfield got sacked four times against the 49ers and – while he didn’t go down against Seattle – he threw three picks (he had two against the Niners). The Patriots have picked off 18 passes and have gotten after quarterbacks in a way we haven’t seen since Bill Belichick’s been in charge. The Patriots have been chewing up a succession of first and second-year quarterbacks. Mayfield would be the most satisfying trophy they could put on their wall because he clearly swallowed all the propaganda he’d been fed about how much of a winner and gunslinger he was.
Surrounded by talented skill position players but the victim of bad protection and his own undisciplined style, the Patriots will clean up unless Mayfield fully commits to playing like not a moron. But in order for the Browns to have any shot at all, they need to use the talent outside that players like Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry bring.
Browns kicker Austin Seibert is having a solid season. He hasn’t missed a field goal attempt. He did miss a pair of PATs. Punter Jamie Gillan had dropped 16 of his 28 punts inside the opponents 20. Jarvis Landry is the lead punt returner. The Browns also have a productive kickoff returner Dontrell Hilliard who’s averaging 24.8 per return. The Patriots haven’t been sharp on kickoff returns. Kicker Mike Nugent seems to have settled in pretty well and is making the kicks he’s expected to. Jake Bailey continues to have a terrific rookie season. Gunner Olszewski is dinged so we’ll see if the Patriots give the punt return role to Edelman. This would be a draw but the Patriots savvy and coaching give them the edge on a sloppy day.
OUT: S Damarious Randall (hamstring). QUESTIONABLE: T Kendall Lamm (knee) and S Sheldrick Redwine (hamstring).
OUT: TE Ryan Izzo (concussion), TE Matt LaCosse (knee). QUESTIONABLE: RB Rex Burkhead (foot), S Patrick Chung (head, chest), WR Julian Edelman (chest), G Shaquille Mason (ankle) and WR Gunner Olszewski (ankle, hamstring).
Tony Corrente’s crew gets this game. He hasn’t had a Patriots regular-season game since the opener last year against the Texans. In each of the past three games, his crew has thrown at least 10 flags on one of the two participants. Not a fan.
Patriots favored by 12.5. The total is 43.5.
The Patriots are 5-2 against the spread. Just two of their seven games have gone over the total twice.
Patriots 27, Browns 10
Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13
Result: Patriots, 33-3
Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0
Result: Patriots 43-0
Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6
Result: Patriots, 30-14
Week 4: Patriots 19, Bills 13
Result: Patriots, 16-10
Week 5: Patriots 30, Redskins 13
Result: Patriots, 33-7
Week 6: Patriots 16, Giants 3
Result: Patriots, 35-14
Week 7: Patriots 16, Jets 13
Result: Patriots, 33-0